CHICAGO -- Super Bowl!
How cool does that sound?
“I’m numb. It’s a great feeling,” Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after a dramatic 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday evening at Soldier Field.
“It’s been a long road,” said Donald Driver, a seventh-round pick in 1999 and the Packers’ elder statesman, “but we’re here now and I’m so excited. I’m going to go home and celebrate with my wife and kids and enjoy the moment.”
Stoic general manager Ted Thompson said he could cry.
“It just feels good to get the Packers back to the Super Bowl and be a part of this,” he said. “I’ve always said the best part of my job was a winning locker room. And a winning locker room (when) you get to go to the Super Bowl is only succeeded by the one at the Super Bowl if you get to have a winning locker room there.”
And the man who stood behind Thompson and McCarthy amid the Brett Favre ordeal, free-agency phobia and the criticism of armchair coaches everywhere.
“I think it’s more that we’re just really, really happy that we’re here in this position,” Packers President Mark Murphy said. “I’ve always had great confidence in Ted and Mike. I think what has set the Packers apart is we hire good people to make football decisions and we let them make those decisions. That’s what you’ve seen here. We have really good people in place, we give them the support they need, and obviously this is really a meaningful win for our organization. Hopefully, we can win the Lombardi Trophy in a few weeks.
For the first time since 1997, when the Packers lost to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII, they’ll be playing to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The victory over the rival Bears wasn’t as artistic as the blowout last weekend at Atlanta. The offense, which scored touchdowns on two of its first four possessions, went nowhere after that, thanks in part to their own self-inflicted wounds. The defense, so strong for most of the game, sprang a leak against third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie, of all people.
But when rookie Sam Shields broke on the ball for a game-clinching interception, the Packers finally could celebrate overcoming five must-win games, three consecutive road games and a league-high number of injuries.
“It’s been a tough road,” 34-year-old Charles Woodson said, “but we persevered through a lot to get to this point. That part about it feels real good.”
When the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI to break their three-decade championship drought, Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf were in their fifth seasons together. Thompson is in his sixth season as general manager and McCarthy in his fifth year as coach.
“I have great respect for Mike Holmgren and what he accomplished in Green Bay,” McCarthy said. “I’m in year No. 5, and hopefully this is a repeated situation that we can stand here and talk about. He had a great career in Green Bay, and being mentioned in the same breath as him is definitely an accomplishment.”
Woodson will be playing in his second Super Bowl but Driver, left tackle Chad Clifton and just about everyone else on the roster will be playing in their first NFL championship game against the vastly more experienced Steelers. While it’s sweet for everyone, it simply means more to the players who have given their bodies to the organization and dealt with the heartache of fourth-and-26 and the 2007 title game.
“We’re going to the Super bowl, so whatever the circumstances are on how you get there, it doesn’t matter,” Clifton said about the surgeries and rehab required to be out there practically every Sunday. “We’re going to the Super Bowl. We need to get one more win.”
Added Clifton: “I’m still a little bit in shock. We’re going to the Super Bowl, we’re going to Dallas. This is my 11th year, wanting to get to that moment. It’s an awesome feeling, it really is.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.